All posts by Tyler

What do you desire?

Emily Witt writes on her experiences shadowing Kink.com and others’ activities as she searches for her sexuality, her meaning of love, and what she wants in a relationship. Fantastically written. Arguments and counters, introspections and external observations, and carefully specific descriptions are so skillfully combined I would recommend the article just to learn from her prose.

n+1: What Do You Desire? by Emily Witt
http://nplusonemag.com/what-do-you-desire

Statistics Can Solve Almost Anything

Statistical and applied probability is the “logic of science”, but let’s not be suckers. Real life is more complex.

Statistical and applied probabilistic knowledge is the core of knowledge; statistics is what tells you if something is true, false, or merely anecdotal; it is the “logic of science”; it is the instrument of risk-taking; it is the applied tools of epistemology; you can’t be a modern intellectual and not think probabilistically—but… let’s not be suckers. The problem is much more complicated than it seems to the casual, mechanistic user who picked it up in graduate school. Statistics can fool you. In fact it is fooling your government right now. It can even bankrupt the system (let’s face it: use of probabilistic methods for the estimation of risks did just blow up the banking system).

The Forth Quadrant: A Map Of The Limit Of Statistics, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
http://edge.org/conversation/the-fourth-quadrant-a-map-of-the-limits-of-statistics

Wandering and in a Hurry in the Redwood Forest

On the first day of October, 2012, my Kawasaki and I were dwarfed by enormous trees in the Redwood Forest in northern California. I found a big one and put my bike in it.

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Fascinated by these giants, I decided to go on an impromptu hike in the woods. A quick glance at a roadside trail map showed many short jaunts, no more than a few kilometers long. I trotted past the trail head into the shadows.

You probably know how magical the Redwood forests are, so I won’t bother gushing about them. It’s all true.

Apparently I had far too much energy on this first day of October, as I decided to run throughout the hike. The warm weather soon felt drenchingly hot as I resisted chugging my water between gasps. The trails split and joined often, and it took a while to realize that I had gone much further than any of those listed on the trail map. A sign would come into view every once in a while promising just a few more kilometers, though I discovered that it defined only the length of that section of the trail, not the distance back to the trail head. Over 5 kilometers into my planned 2 kilometer wilderness run, I limped out of the trees onto a dirt road. This road continued for a while. I wanted to arrive at my next destination before sunset, which meant either doubling back on my trail immediately or finding my way back by another route in the same amount of time. After checking my position with my cameras GPS function to see whether I was getting closer to the trail head or not — I was not — I turned around and dove back into the forest.

Dropping with sweat and heaving like a pair of bellows by the time I returned to my motorcycle, the few photo snappers and sight seers stared, understandably. I dried myself off with my towel and cooled off in the shade of a giant hollowed Redwood stump.

The KLR waited, patiently. Then we continued on to San Francisco.

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Learning Spanish: A Short Story Exercise

I’ve been slowly learning Spanish during my travels in Latin America, taking a week of structured classes every month or so. Yesterday, during my third week of structured classes in three months, I wrote a story.

Cuando salí por mi aventura con moto, no supe que iría al espacio con nave espacial. Pensaba iba hasta Argentina, pero aquella vez no conocía que habrían otros planes para mi. Estaba llegando San Cristóbal de Las Casas, México, cuando un extraterrestre me tomo! Hace dos meses vivo con “Ϡ′Ж҂ᴨﺓ”, los extraterrestres, y no quiero dejarlos. Me gusta viajar hacia las estrellas y, según los extraterrestres y yo, nos somos ahora familia.

 

Pelicans Glide Alongside The Pacific Coast Highway

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Some time ago I was cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway in California, enjoying the curves as asphalt followed the coastline, when I realized I wasn’t alone. A flock of about 8 Brown Pelicans were gliding parallel to the motorcycle, about 25 meters away over the waters. I sent someone an email about it:

A great moment about a week ago, while cruising at about 90 km/h along the twisting Pacific Coast Highway halfway down California, was having a flock of huge pelicans keep me company as they also followed the coast. They were hunting the surf, but in a V-formation flock and at 90-100 km/h and no more than 50 feet away from the bike! I had no idea they could cruise at that speed with so little effort, let alone hunt effectively.

Not able to contain the Narcissist within, I immediately related to these presently majestic creatures, ignoring the bustle of the highway, hunting at fantastic speeds, and not caring about much else. They were focused yet relaxed. As they were unperturbed by the noisy presence of the motorcycle, I adjusted my speed to keep pace with the flock for as long as possible, slowing to between 80-95 km/h. Ignoring the bustle of the cars piling up behind me, I hunted with the flock.

Riding alone the coast, I have realized that one can have a focused and relaxed mind while not thinking about anything in particular. A subject is not required for trained thoughts.

Silver Washington Beaches And More Sand

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The silver sands of Washington around Long Beach (no, not California) emulate those timeless emotions of ocean side sunsets, and sew in a mean streak of chilly breeze and reality. Sand gets everywhere and in everything. Of course, unless you live there, odds are you’re looking for romantic sunsets and self insight, so it comes pretty easily. The chilly breeze and reality are the kickers. Determined to discover the emotional filler of relaxing under a bronze sky on the Pacific coast promised by travel agency billboards, beer commercials, and camera equipment advertisements, I made tracks for several kilometres from the beach access road to find an appropriate camping spot.

Sand is difficult to ride in, especially with relatively thin, though aggressive, tires and a fully-loaded, 700+ pound motorcycle. This was news to me, never having ridden in deep sand, and I was forced to learn quickly. Allowing either tire to sink too far into the sand immediately destabilizes the entire ride. Too wet, as in too deep in the surf, and the sand hasn’t settled enough to support any weight; too dry, as in too far up the beach, and the sand has no cohesion. Speed has a factor, too: there’s a velocity sweet spot for sands of various cohesions. Too fast and the next instability incident — they’re inevitable — will more likely end with the wrong side up; too slow and you’ll sink, a factor made more pressing when in non-ideal sands. Basically, follow the edge of the surf and gun it, but not at speeds you can’t handle. I dumped it more than once. More than thrice.

After having explored miles of beaches, riding in the inches of water at the edge of the Pacific surf, I settled on a part of the beach remote enough to filter out the general public. The odd person would walk by. A few 4-wheelers with oversized tires ripped by. Seagulls flitted over the caramelizing surf. The tent and sleeping gear, as well as a time lapse photography setup, were quickly setup as the sun took a dip in the ocean.

Unpacking In A Washington Beach Sunset from Tyler Lucas on Vimeo.

Sleep was supposed to come easily, with the gentle lull of the distant surf and body-molding sand mattress, but I was restless. A bit of discomfort is required to keep my mind sufficiently distracted so it doesn’t spin up, thinking. Nature’s street lamp, the moon, was nearly full. It has no off switch, no way to escape. Luckily the chilly breeze picked up just after midnight, slipping through the open doors of my tent, pulling thoughts towards warmth and sleep.

My definition for morning dew was recalibrated upon awakening, the underside of the tent fly soaked in millimeters of droplets. Fog blanketed the beach, disallowing sight past 50 m. I could barely make out my lonely KLR, floating in the distance in a cloud. The camera and setup was soaked, but, as the seals can handle most ambient environments, uncompromised. A dead battery ensured that a full contingent of time lapse photos had indeed been taken, though the sky was mostly clouded throughout the night, blocking stars.

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The moon, the unrelenting nightlight, was no longer visible, having turned to the far side of the globe, so the Earth’s waters were now being pulled the other way. I was curious as to how far the tide had come up during the night — how accurate was my guess? Needing to move the machine to more stable sands before reloading it anyway, I trudged down the beach in my flip flops and underwear to investigate.

I could barely, mostly hear, the surf breaking over 50 m away as I inspected the chilled, sopping wet KLR. After a few more cranks than usual, it putted to life and I gingerly guided it down to the wet sand about 5 meters from the surf. Cold, wet sand gritted between my toes and in my underwear and behind my ears, a scene which normally guarantees misery, but the Pacific grants abnormal calm to those who would have it. I felt focused, at peace, and ready to take on the day.

Leaving the motorcycle to watch the waves, I returned to the campsite after my metaphorical cup of coffee. Packing up is always an unwelcome chore, more so when everything is soaked and developing a strong affinity for sand. Even so, I usually do it slowly and methodically, knowing that everything will have to be unpacked eventually, and I’ll wish I had taken my time if something is moldy or sandy. This morning was no exception, and I spent around half an hour fussing with my gear before returning to the pack mule with the first load. As I had had only a metaphorical cup, not an actual cup, of coffee, I was still groggy, not really paying attention to my surroundings. Something was wrong, and it took me a few moments to acknowledge this as fact and look around.

A small wave rushed by my feet, going a few meters beyond my parking spot and getting my socks wet. That woke me up. The following wave was not so small. I turned away to avoid being knocked over myself as the formerly described calming Pacific smashed into everything I owned. The bike could not turn away: though it was leaning heavily on its kickstand towards the Pacific, the ocean pushed it over like a domino, taking the small bags piled on top with it. All of my gear is packed in waterproof bags, not that I expected my luggage to go surfing, but for peace of mind during water crossings and heavy rainfall, so I wasn’t too worried about everything getting wet. Immediately feeling foolish and enjoying this new adventure, I laughed as I grabbed my luggage and sprinted for higher ground. The tide hadn’t come in during the night, it was coming in now! So much for my moon logic. After dumping everything up the beach near my campsite, I trotted back to the crime scene. Something was laying in the sand, half buried, but clearly unnatural and unsettlingly familiar. It was my Macbook, and it had clearly surfed its last wave. I could feel and hear sand caking the insides of the computer. After popping out the battery — wouldn’t want to also let a Li-Ion cell short and burst from the sea water, as well — I dropped the computer onto my pile of rescued luggage and tried not to think about it as I returned to rescue my fallen comrade, the KLR.

This bike was made for abuse, and today’s share did little to discourage its spirit: it fired up immediately and spat a rooster tail of sand and surf 10 m long as we ground our way out of the foot-deep rising tide onto dry land. The tide was coming in fast, the maximum of which would clearly take up the entire beach. Being several kilometers from the nearest access point and now riding much higher on the beach, where the sand was more dry and less stable, I had to cut the crap and give’r in order to have a chance of escape. This was by far the most technically challenging riding I had done so far, having to follow the quickly shifting surf at full throttle, trying to stay on the thin belt of sand that was wet enough to retain its structure long enough for me to rip over it, not so wet or dry as to turn into quicksand and allow the tires to sink in past the point of no return. Wind whipped sand into the air, stinging my eyes, and condensing fog made protective glasses or face shield a hazard, forcing me to suck it up and squint for the optimal path. The beach appeared to not have an end as the unrelenting tide ate away my road to freedom. The last few hundred meters were through completely dry and deep sand dunes, a route I would have avoided at all costs the day before, but today I never hesitated. Full throttle and gritted teeth skipped my elegantly overweight machine across the treacherous terrain, flying onto the access road and skidding to a stop as the tide licked the edge of the beach.

My gear was a mess, the computer was ruined, and I felt great! Having learned more during my 20 minute escape ride than during my entire trip thus far, I was on top of the world. Getting out of a tight situation using naught but raw power, skill, and determination is one of the best highs available. The highway was my automatic car wash, letting 130 km/h wind strip away the majority of the surface sand. After a thorough spray cleaning at a nearby town I was off, leaving the silver beaches behind. It was gorgeous and I was humbled in way that I enjoyed, though, nearly three months and over 10’000 km later, I’m still finding sand in my stuff.

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The Desert, Tron And The Universe

Pointing my motorcycle east, a promised bed on my mind, the sun sets behind me as I fall into an evermore contemplative mood.

You ever have that moment when you’re ripping through the desert on your purring machine in the pitch black of night, gazing up at the eerily bright Milky Way and trying to watch the road at the same time, when you’re having trouble not thinking about Tron as the yellow and white dots streak past, reflecting on the windscreen and face shield, and all you want to do is ponder the wonders of the universe? Nah, me either.

There is a gorgeous stretch of interstate cutting through the desert near the Mexican border. Regularly spaced reflectors dot the side and centre lines, their mirror-like surfaces glinting with uncomfortable brightness. At the edge of blackness I can make out a fenced border, keeping the natural and civilized worlds separate. A mutually appreciated apartheid, though both sides of the fence would prefer it wasn’t necessary. As the sun gasps its dieing breaths, the unnatural demarcation seems to guard travelers from the void itself. Not even shadow exists beyond the tall aluminium posts and taut aircraft cable lines.

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Reality shrinks with the senses, leaving only a motorcycle, a rider, and an expanding sphere of darkness. My Kawasaki companion is comforting. It’s warm, shaped to my body, and powerful. I lean forward, resting my chest on the packed tank bag and tucking my head behind the tiny windscreen, listening and feeling. The rough drone of the tuned exhaust and slapping valves, high pressure knobby tires skimming asphalt, lightly tensioned chain smacking the guards every once in a while to remind them of their function. Cool winds scream by the fairings, complaining as they’re mashed through the radiator and spat out the other side. The useless end of a tie-down strap flaps in the wind behind me. An adult’s stuffed animal, all metal and plastic and gasoline. I hug the tank and wrap myself around the frame, still crouched behind the miniature windscreen. Warmth from the engine permeates my boots and shins while fresh air slips through vents in my helmet and jacket. As the outside world disappears into the night, the inside world is revealed detail by detail, begging for personification.

I pass a lone semi truck and watch his headlights blend in and then fade away with the sun.

Velocity has little meaning without a frame of reference. Acceleration is comforting. It reminds you that there is potential for more, should you need it; should you want it. The reflectors blended into milky streams of white and orange. The scene in front was no different from that left behind. The stars did not move.

The skin of the bubble of comfort and warmth wrapped around the speeding Kawasaki continued to expand and dissolve. Soon it included everything. The stars provided warmth and comfort despite their distance, and local time slowed to a crawl despite the obvious indicators of speed. Why is our local perception so different from that of the universe as a whole? As consciousness expands, reality slows.

I was tired, and looking up at the Milky Way while zipping down the highway was dangerous, so I revved it up and screamed down the road towards Tuscon and a place to sleep.

Failure of the Senses: Motorcycle Maintenance

There’s a word for a sudden, startling realization, but it’s not coming to me.

Yesterday I was investigating the source of a periodic “whooshing” noise I could hear while on my bike. I can’t hear very well at the moment, as ear infections recently damaged my ear drums and whatever else is in there, so I knew this noise must be loud and not to be ignored. After studying the Clymer KLR 650 manual for a while, I had assembled a short list of possible causes, then went to work. The first step was to reproduce the noise: check, there it is, upon starting, warming and throttling the machine. The periodic frequency didn’t change directly with RPM, though it did vary for other unknown reasons. The first fix on my list was to reset the balancer chain tensioner (doohickey). After, I again checked for the telltale “whooshing” — still there! I didn’t want to take the next step: inspecting the valve shim clearances with the cams, as this meant major mechanical work and would take some time and possibly parts (new shims).

Contemplating this while listening to the “whooshing” a bit more, I flicked off the ignition without much thought, killing the engine. There must be a simpler explanation! The bike only has 8200 km on it. Did it overheat without my noticing? Dang! Then I realized I could still hear the “whooshing” noise. The KLR was off. It took a full minute of denial before accepting the truth: the sound I had been hearing was my own heart beat, isolated by my brain and the natural roar of the bike, and amplified by my messed up ear drums. We automatically filter out the din of the motor and other periodic sounds our brains deem useless, and we isolate and amplify those judged to be important. Apparently blood rushing by my temples is something to which I should pay attention.

I’ll get a friend to listen, but I’m pretty sure this case is closed.

Ah, epiphany.